Maltese researchers have joined forces with experts from Italy, Croatia and a number of international institutions to investigate the impact of marine protected areas on fish stocks.

The initiative aims to address issues which have emerged following the decision to use larger mesh trawls to avoid catching juveniles of certain species, like hake (merluzz) and red mullet (trilja).

The decision came at a cost, as it led to reduced catches of valuable, small, commercial species such as the giant red shrimp (gamblu aħmar), the deepwater rose shrimp (gamblu abjad) and Norway lobster (langustin).

Known as MANTIS (Marine protected Areas Network Towards sustainable fisheries in the central Mediterranean), the project sees the involvement of the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Department of Biology at the University of Malta.

The project aims to protect habitats that are critical for commercial species and identify measures to minimise adverse fishing impacts in areas where juveniles of commercial species aggregate.

Apart from the two Maltese participants, the project includes the Italian National University Consortium for Marine Sciences, the Italian National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics, the Croatian Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries, the cooperative for Fisheries and Aquaculture Economic Research, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Oceana.

Participants recently met at a general meeting in Rome to discuss the project’s activities.

In the coming months, the scientific collaboration between the Maltese participants will focus on reviewing and integrating all available knowledge on the dynamics of Maltese fisheries resources.

The local teams will gather all available data on the locations of catches and even more importantly, on the sizes of individuals of the fish species caught from the different fishing grounds.

The information will be available from on-board observations of how a network of marine protected areas can contribute to improving sustainable fisheries in the central Mediterranean and ultimately aid local fishermen to maximise their incomes.

The project is funded by the European Commission and coordinated by the Italian National Research Council.

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